Are landowners responsible for attacks by wild animals?
The recent horrific death of a toddler who was dragged off by an alligator in Orlando has evoked stark terror and compassion. It also brings up, as did the case in which the gorilla was shot after a young child fell into his zoo habitat, the subject of premises liability. What is premises liability? Premises liability is a legal concept concerning situations in which one person is injured on another person’s property as a result of an unsafe condition. Property owners who neglect to maintain their property are at grave risk of being sued if, for example, they leave an oil slick or broken glass on the driveway. It is considered the duty of the homeowner (or, in some cases, tenant) of the property to warn of any latent or concealed dangers and to repair hazardous conditions promptly. Premises liability law is complicated. If you are dealing with such an issue, you should consult with an attorney who specializes in this type of personal injury. The Dangers of Disney World In general, property owners are responsible for injuries if they have neglected repairs or have a dangerous condition, such as unseen hole, on their property. Although property owners are also expected to control the behavior of their pets, they are not typically considered to be able to supervise wild animals. Nonetheless, the question in the Orlando case will rest upon the legal status of a “hidden danger” (in the form of an alligator) that was not brought to the attention of visitors. The Law Concerning Wild Animals The law designates wild animals as “Ferae naturae,” assumed not to belong to anyone and not to be under anyone’s dominion. The behavior of wild animals is expected to be unpredictable. In the Disney World case, however, there are several other factors at play. First, though the alligator is indigenous to Florida, much depends on whether the animal was living in a totally natural habitat or had been placed in the park purposefully. If the animal in question was confined, the owners are much more likely to be found liable for the animal’s actions. What attorneys are likely to focus on in this case is the fact that this child was visiting a resort in which his life should have been protected, if not by removing the alligator, then by posting warnings of a clear and present danger. Although, according to preliminary reports, there was a No Swimming sign posted, it is entirely possible that the court will feel that this warning was insufficient since the child was only wading in the water when he was attacked. In the end, the crucial facts will be both the specifics of the tragedy, not all of which have yet been revealed, and whether the property owners knew, or should have known, the behavior of the alligators in the lagoon to be a direct hazard to any small child on the island. This case is startling in its gruesome barbarity. While not all serious personal injury cases are as horrifying, all result in physical and emotional pain, medical and/or rehabilitation costs, and, in many instances, lost wages. If you are located in New York and have suffered a personal injury due to the negligence of another, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney with the skill to assist you in receiving the highest possible compensation.